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THE MILLENNIUM AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS: The United Nations’ challenge for a fairer, eco-friendlier and more developed world

by Giovanni Coppola

THE MILLENNIUM AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS: The United Nations’ challenge for a fairer, eco-friendlier and more developed world 

 

THE UNITED NATIONS: A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

As soon as the 2WW started, still having in mind the atrocities of the previous global conflict (1WW) and having experienced the unusefulness of the previously established League of Nations, various representatives of different countries began to think about an international organization aimed at linking all the nations across the world and regulating their relationships. At the time in fact, with the exception of official visits, there were no possibilities for authorities to broadly intervene on the international political context. It is within this framework that the United Nations Organization born.

The earliest concrete program for a new global entity began under the supervision of the US State Department in 1939. Two years later, representatives of 14 countries (United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Yugoslavia and France) met in London and signed the Declaration of St. James’s Palace that established the participants’ willingness in cooperating for the free people’s enjoyment of economic and social security; both in war and peace. The latter, was the first of six conferences that brought to the founding of the United Nations.

The successive step was represented by the drafting of the “Declaration of the United Nations” by U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt and British prime minister Winston Churchill that was then signed in 1942 by 26 governments. This important document pledged the involved parties to the maximum war effort and bound them against agreeing to separate peace treaties. By the early 1945 it had been signed by 21 more states.

Successively, on April 25th, 1945, the United Nations Conference on International Organization began in San Francisco. The latter became theatre of the drafting of the United Nations Charter, setting up all the organization’s structure and purposes. The charter, was ratified by 51 countries, and saw the participation of a number of non-governmental organizations such as Rotary International and Lions Clubs International in addition to national governments. In the end, on the 24th of October 1945 the United Nations were officially formed.

THE UNITED NATIONS: MAIN AIMS, STRUCTURE, AND PROGRAMS

Since its foundation, the United Nations’ main task has been to ensure international peace and security through the upholding of international law. Beside to that, the U.N. have been also involved in promoting sustainable development, protecting human rights and delivering humanitarian aids.

The organization’s structure provides for a General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the International Court of Justice, and the U.N. Secretariat:

  • The General Assembly is the main deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the U.N. All 193 Member States of the U.N. are represented in the General Assembly, making it the only U.N. body with universal representation.
  • The Security Council instead is the primary responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security. Subsidiary organs of the Security Council are: the Economic and Social Council (that serves for coordination, policy review, policy dialogue and recommendations on economic, social and environmental issues); the International Court of Justice (which is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations); the Secretariat (who carries out the day-to-day work of the UN as mandated by the General Assembly and the Organization’s other principal organs).

All of the latter were set up at the organization’s birth.

United Nations, moreover, comprehend the following social and economic development programs:

UNICEF (founded in 1946)

The United Nations Children’s Fund providing long-term humanitarian and development assistance to children and mothers.

UNRWA (founded in 1948)

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees which encompasses education, health care, relief and social services, microfinance and emergency assistance to Palestinian refugees.

UNHCR (founded in 1950)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that protects refugees worldwide and facilitates their return home or resettlement.

WFP (founded in 1961)

The World Food Programme aiming at eradicating hunger and malnutrition.

UNCTAD (founded in 1964)

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development is the body responsible for international trade.

UNDP (founded in 1966)

The United Nations Development Programme which helps to eradicate poverty, reduce inequalities and build resilience to let countries sustain progress. As the UN’s development agency, UNDP played a critical role in helping countries achieve the Millennium Development Goals and now is in charge for the newly set Sustainable Development Goals.

UNFPA (founded in 1969)

The United Nations Population Fund which is the U.N. leading agency for ensuring rights such as birth, job and protection to all citizens.

UNEP (founded in 1972)

The United Nations Environment Programme acting as a facilitator to promote the wise use and sustainable development of the global environment.

UN-Habitat (founded in 1978)

The scope of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme is the promotion of socially and environmentally sustainable human settlements development and the achievement of adequate shelters for all.

UNODC (founded in 1997)

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime that helps member states fighting drugs, crime, and terrorism.

UN Women (founded in 2011)

UN Women Programme focusing exclusively on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

THE MILLENNIUM DEVELOPMENT GOALS (2000-2015): U.N. FIRST GREAT HUMANITARIAN PROJECT

Starting from the ‘60s, UN and its partner organizations have always tried to focus their activities on global development and since 2000 they have established themselves a set of goals in order to enhance humanity’s living standards. The latter were set during the Millennium Summit, a meeting lasting three days from the 6th to September the 8th of 2000 at the United Nations headquarters in New York in which world leaders ratified the United Nations Millennium Declaration and agreed to help citizens in the world’s poorest countries to achieve a better life by the year 2015.

The Declaration committed nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty, and set out a list of eight targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The full list included:

  • Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Achieve universal primary education
  • Promote gender equality and empower women
  • Reduce child mortality
  • Improve maternal health
  • Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  • Ensure environmental sustainability
  • Develop a global partnership for development

MAIN CRITICS

Critics of the MDGs complained of a lack of analysis and justification behind the chosen objectives, and the difficulty or shortcoming of measurements for some goals and uneven progress, among others.

Different authors defined the goals as ‘overambitious’ or ‘unrealistic’ and believe the MDGs ignored the limited local capacities, particularly missing governance and countries’ income capabilities (Mishra, 2004; Oya, 2011). Moreover, some of them highlighted that by concentrating largely on developing countries the MDGs firmly located the problem of development into the third world (AbouZahr and Boerma 2010).

Of particular concern were: goal 2 accused of being focused on primary education only, while ignoring the importance of secondary and post-secondary education (Mekonen, 2010; Tarabini, 2010); goal 4,5 and 6 that were concentrated only on three aspects of health: maternal mortality, child mortality and specific infectious diseases (James 2006); MDG 7 that prompted authors to argue that the goal placed too ‘little emphasis on environmental issues’, in particular, climate change (McMichael & Butler, 2004).

In the end, most people believed that 15 years were a too short period to address development and see progress, also arguing that intermediate milestones and targets would have helped to maintain focus and achieve the goals (Keyzer and Van Wesenbeeck, 2006).

 

THE RESULTS1

Despite the critics, the final MDG Report found that the 15-year efforts produced the most successful anti-poverty movement in history:

  • Since 1990, the number of people living in extreme poverty has declined by more than a half.
  • The proportion of undernourished people in the developing regions has fallen by almost a half.
  • The primary school enrollment rate in the developing regions has reached 91%, and many more girls are now in school compared to 15 years ago.
  • Remarkable gains have also been achieved in the fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
  • The under-5 years mortality rate has declined by more than a half, and maternal mortality got down by 45 % worldwide.
  • The target of halving the proportion of people who lack access to improved sources of water was also met.

Anyway authorities knew that the job was still not finished, that’s why at their expiry the MDGs objectives were renovated and re-stated in more detailed framework (SDGs). 

  1. http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/2015_MDG_Report/pdf/MDG%202015%20Summary%20web_english.pdf

  

THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS (2015-2030): THE CONTINUATION OF THE COMMITMENT

The concept of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) born at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, in 2012. The objective was to continue the work done with MDGs and produce a set of universally applicable goals that balanced the three dimensions of sustainable development: environmental, social, and economic.

The new SDGs, and the broader sustainability agenda, go much further than the MDGs, addressing the root causes of poverty and the universal need for development that works for all people.

The updated agenda envisages:

  • End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  • End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  • Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  • Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  • Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  • Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  • Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and clean energy for all
  • Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  • Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  • Reduce inequality within and among countries
  • Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  • Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  • Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
  • Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  • Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
  • Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  • Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

All of the latter have been divided into subgroups that specify in more details targets to be achieved in numeric terms within 2030*. 

* the complete agenda at: http://unsdsn.org/resources/goals-and-targets/

MAIN CRITICS

Main critics accuse the SDGs of being vague and incomplete, and of trying to cover too much ground. People’s Goals, a network embedding trade unions and NGOs, considers SDGs unachievable as long as the present system of world economy’s regulations remains in place. Beyond 2015, an alliance of 1000 NGOs from 130 countries, points out the lack of the core principles of human rights into the goals. The Women’s Major Group criticizes the SDG on gender equality as being weaker for failing to refer to the UN Convention on the Rights of Women and to sexual and reproductive rights.

Some experts highlight that the real problem is that the SDGs are profoundly contradictory, to the point of being self-defeating2. Various examples are suggested by the draft: goal 8 (promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth) and 15 (include the restoration of water-related ecosystems, a halt to the loss of biodiversity, and an end to overfishing, deforestation, and desertification) seem impossible to be achieved simultaneously because the mandatory pursuit of endless industrial growth is destroying our living planet, increasing poverty at a rapid rate, expanding extractions, exploiting as much as possible our ecosystem and threatening the basis of our existence; still goal 8 and goal 1 (end all poverty forms everywhere) given the fact that of the overall income generated by global GDP growth between 1999 and 2008, the poorest 60 % of humanity received only the 5% and it will take 207 years to eliminate poverty; then there’s the unfair trade regime of the World Trade Organization, and the bilateral trade deals (like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and Trade in Services Agreement) that have caused such a furor over the past few years and that the SDGs treat in an opposite way: Goal 17.10 in fact, calls for more trade liberalization and more power for the World Trade Organization; in addition, SDGs are also silent on the need for greater regulation of financial markets and the imperative to shrink our “too-big-to-fail” banks. Goal 17.13 speaks vaguely of the need to “enhance global macroeconomic stability” through “policy coordination,” with no specific targets.

Finally, for the less optimistics the SDGs are not just inadequate, they are dangerous and will constitute for the next fifteen years a failing economic model that requires urgent and deep structural changes.

  1. Source: http://commonstransition.org/the-problem-with-saving-the-world/

 

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR SDGs ACHIEVEMENT3

Crucial to SDGs achievement will be ability to transform economies. This means investment, trade, technology and entrepreneurship as part of a broader industrial strategy for developing countries. We need to create more effective states and more efficient markets. We need to understand that they are part of the same game: if governments are not competent, markets can’t be efficient either. We must intensify competition and consumer protection, improve infrastructure services and foster a better business environment by investing in skills and leadership development.

We need to address weaknesses and build resilience. We need to better manage finance and its macroeconomic effects, as well as strengthen the link between fiscal, monetary policies and development goals. We also need to care about the climate change since extreme weather and rising sea levels are an increasing threat.

Finally, we need to find common solutions because great results can only be achieved if a strong cooperation between all the stakeholders involved (national governments, civil society, private firms and non-governmental organizations) is ensured. Monitoring and evaluation will be fundamental activities during the process, enabling countries and governments to realize whether they are on a right track or not. 

  1. Source: Jakob Trollback: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/09/4-ways-to-ensure-the-success-of-the-global-goals/

CONCLUSIONS

What U.N. has proposed itself has for sure a noble scope. During the last years we as society have achieved great objectives but the world still needs our efforts and only time will be able to say if we have been good enough.

 

*****

REFERENCES 

http://www.alliancesud.ch/en/policy/development/sdgs-surprisingly-ambitious-much-criticized

http://commonstransition.org/the-problem-with-saving-the-world/

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/51d1c0aa-5085-11e5-8642-453585f2cfcd.html#axzz47dGFQRIU

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3877943/

http://www.scidev.net/global/sdgs/opinion/sdg-impractical-unrealistic-governance.html

http://www.sdgfund.org/mdgs-sdgs

https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/

http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sdgoverview.html

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/09/how-achievable-are-the-sustainable-development-goals/

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/09/4-ways-to-ensure-the-success-of-the-global-goals/

 

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